Samantha's Blog

Back to Basics

Which is correct?

Grammar BeeWith whom are you sexting?
Who are you sexting with?

He knelt at the altar of her heaving bosom.
He kneeled at the altar of her heaving bosom.

Last week I decided I needed to take a little time each day to get back to the basics of writing. You know, that little thing called grammar. In high school, I took an elective in grammar. In college, I took an extra-curricular class. That’s right, no credit for it because my major was Finance. Since college, I’ve taken several grammar classes and home-schooled my daughter in it. But it doesn’t matter how many classes I’ve taken, how many times I study subject verb agreement; subject, object and reflexive pronouns; or commas, colons and semi-colons, I find myself questioning myself. (I find me questioning me? I find myself questioning me? I find me questioning myself?)

So why haven’t all of those classes stuck? Part of the problem is reading all the mistakes that slip past writers and editors. I see “that” used so often in reference to people, I wonder if I’m the one making the mistake when I use “who.”

And part of it is the evolving rules. I was raised on the Oxford comma. We didn’t call it that. We called it the series comma. When I transferred that particular grammar law to fiction, I worked diligently to make certain I didn’t miss a single Oxford/series comma in my manuscripts. In fact, as my editor and I were passing my first manuscript back and forth, I became frustrated because I was missing so many of them. Then I realized my editor was taking them out. Later, I learned that most publishing houses discard the Oxford comma unless it’s necessary for clarity. And let’s talk about snuck and sneaked. In high school, my grammar teacher was horrified that “Jack snuck down the hill” in Ray Parker Jr.’s “Jack and Jill.” (I’ll have to Google song title format before I post this.) He should have sneaked. These days, if my research is correct, both are acceptable.

Yet another problem is regionalisms. For me the past tense of kneel is knelt, not kneeled, but my editor wanted me to correct knelt to kneeled. And what about the past tense of leap? Leapt or leaped?

So I go back to the book…the grammar book. The Elements of Style, aka Strunk and White; Painless Grammar (as if such a thing exists); Image Grammar. If I’m too lazy to get off my as—uh, I mean computer—I search online at Grammar Girl and various university websites.

These resources are great. They’re right at my fingertips, so why bother taking the time to brush up? Because I don’t immediately do the research. I often argue the point before finally breaking down and looking it up. Plus, I hate not knowing.

So it’s back to class. This time I’m using The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. It’s straightforward, has lots of examples, and includes pretests, worksheets and final tests…all in one book.

Wish me luck. I really want to nail it this time.

Okay, time for show and tell. What’s your favorite grammar resource? Or the grammar bane of your existence?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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Location, Location, Location

Location, location, location. It’s the realtor’s mantra, but it works for me as well. From the mundane to the exotic, a change of location and the accompanying change of pace unleash my creativity and open me to new possibilities. Some examples:

  1. Sharing Hailey CoverHawaii. Specifically, the Big Island. More specifically, the Kailua-Kona area. I fell in love with it the minute I stepped off the airplane at the Kona airport. The sweet scent of plumeria, the warm breeze fluffed with just the right amount of humidity. All in the middle of winter!  I’m not a fan of winter. The days are too cold and too short…and too cold and too short…and did I mention too cold and too short. When the calendar flips to December 1, I just want to crawl into bed and sleep until March. Yeah, not a fan of winter. So no surprise that I set my first book, Sharing Hailey, in Hawaii. It’s the only place I’ve ever vacationed that I cried when I had to leave. Setting a book on the beautiful Kona coast allowed me to spend a little more time there…in my imagination.
  2. Red River, New Mexico (and all the ski resorts I visited before I decided that wintry weather and icy roads weren’t relaxing, not even a little). Last summer, my husband and I spent a long weekend in Red River. It was my first visit, and I was instantly intrigued by the workings of a small town where the primary industry is tourism. Tempting Meredith CoverWithin twenty-four hours, I had an idea for not just one book but an entire series. I’m currently revising the first book in that series and writing the second.
  3. Austin. This enclave of liberalism in the conservative state of Texas was the setting for Tempting Meredith. And the heroes and heroine in the story reflect both political ideologies.
  4. The blood mobile. Yes, one day while donating blood, I came up with the beginning of a book involving blood donation and a bomb. Haven’t written that one yet, but someday…maybe.
  5. Waiting for Ty CoverAll over Texas. Houston, rural west Texas, Dallas. I find it difficult not to write about characters shaped by my birth state. Like my life there, Waiting for Ty takes place in every corner of it.
  6. New Mexico. I can’t forget the rest of my adopted home state, the setting for the second half of Sharing Hailey and the above mentioned work-in-progress. Albuquerque, Corrales, Santa Fe, Taos. I’ve lived here for thirty years, but the familiarity hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm for the Land of Enchantment. Mountains formed from volcanoes, gorges cut deep by rivers, sunrises and sunsets so colorful I thought they only existed in paintings. The home of scientists who built the atomic bomb and artists who share the state’s beauty and culture through their works, New Mexico is as diverse as the United States itself.

From books that will never see a publisher to those already out there, location inspires me and shapes my writing. How important is location to your work or the books you read?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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Pretty Woman, Cinderella and Romance

Pretty Woman movie posterPretty Woman. Yep, that’s the one. When I began thinking about this month’s topic—movie and television characters—I kept coming back to Pretty Woman. As a feminist, I shouldn’t love this movie, but I do. And my favorite part is Vivian’s shopping spree courtesy of her “john,” the incredibly wealthy, Edward Lewis. I know. Could I be more shallow? (Okay, Word is telling me that the correct word is shallower. Sorry, it just doesn’t have the same impact.)

Pretty Woman is a Cinderella story, but unlike the Cinderella movie I talked about last month, the characters in Pretty Woman are transformed by the end of the story. And like any good romance, their transformations occur because of the hero and heroine’s growing love for each other. For those few living under a rock (or too young to be familiar with the movie), here is a brief synopsis. Edward Lewis despises his father, who abandoned him and his mother. But he has followed in his father’s footsteps by using and discarding women. Vivian Ward is the hooker with a heart of gold and little self-esteem. As she tells Edward, “People put you down enough, you start to believe it.” Edward learns to love and trust. Vivian learns that she’s worth more than a paid, five minute hook-up with a stranger. And they all live happily ever after, although I understand the HEA wasn’t included in the original version.

Billionaire bad boys and poverty-stricken, nurturing women aren’t new to the romance genre. From Regency dukes to modern day CEO’s, from the orphaned ingénue to the single mom trying to put one more meal on the table and still afford the monthly rent, they abound. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, anything by Dame Barbara Cartland, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The “sugar and spice” gender learns that if they are good and kind and patient and nurturing, they will receive their reward in the form of a handsome, “obscenely” wealthy and often dysfunctional man. But women must possess all those saintly qualities to tame/snag that oh-so-desirable (?) man.

Surprisingly, the trend has continued in today’s romances. In fact, it seems to be on the upswing. I have to ask myself why. Yes, women are still underpaid compared to men, but it’s not like the old days. Remember them? When the highest position a woman could aspire to was the CEO’s secretary?

While my taste for the billionaire bad boy has declined over the years, I still admit to the occasional indulgence. Would I have loved Pretty Woman without the penthouse, the private jet, the insanely expensive restaurant and the aforementioned shopping? Yes. After all, I married a poor college student. We both still laugh about the day, shortly after our wedding, when I found a dollar bill in my purse. The excitement of being able to afford a loaf of bread bubbled over, and I called my husband at work with the joyous news! I’d won the lottery!

A romance is a romance. A great romance is a great romance. But that fantasy life of luxury, of being taken care of, calls to me from time to time. What about you?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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Have Courage and Be Imperfect

Cinderella move posterI love the whole Cinderella story. So when I saw the trailer for Disney’s latest version, I knew I had to see it. No, I’m not the target market for the film, but I never let a little thing like age appropriate entertainment stop me, because I’d miss out on a lot of fun. Case in point, Wreck-It Ralph and all the Toy Story movies, which I love! So off I went with a couple of friends—adult friends—who were just as excited as I was about the new flick.

The setting: an auditorium full of adults, two children, one baby who slept through the movie.

Le sigh désolé. If I hadn’t been with friends, I might’ve walked out after the opening sequence. I did consider joining le bébé and taking a nap (which would have been a real pity because yes, there were lessons learned). Why am I panning a movie that the critics enjoyed?

Cinderella’s family was so perfect, so sweet, that I had a mouthful of cavities and gained ten pounds by the time poor dear Ella’s parents died. And quite frankly, I was hoping Ella would join them. Yes, I was rooting for Ella’s death. Prince Charming’s, as well. Cinderella and the Prince were paragons of everything good…from birth, possibly even in their mothers’ wombs. Who knows? Who cares? Perfection is not only boring, but also annoying.

However, all was not lost, because as stated earlier, an important lesson was learned. (Obviously said lesson had nothing to do with choosing active over passive verbs.) This Cinderella retelling is a perfect illustration of why our heroes and/or heroines must have flaws. Not simply because it’s difficult to relate to perfect characters, but because without flaws there is no room for growth, aka transformation. There is no one for us to root for, nothing to excite our emotions. Neither Cinderella nor Charming grew during the movie. In fact, none of the characters grew. The villains were still villains, and the good guys were still painfully perfect. By the end, I was cheering for the “evil” stepmother. At least she had some depth.

So forget the movie’s repetitive adage, “Have courage and be kind.” As writers, we would do much better to have courage and be imperfect.

The post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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Just Write the Next Book

Sharing Hailey cover

My first book.

The things they don’t tell you? Hah. I’d been writing for so many years before I was published that I’d pretty much heard it all. What I didn’t know before I signed that contract, I learned soon after. That doesn’t mean I heeded all that accumulated wisdom. I didn’t. I wish I had. The one piece of advice I wish I’d really paid attention to? Just write the next book.

But I didn’t. I was too concerned with marketing: building a website, starting a Facebook page, learning to tweet. I thought I needed to write guest blogs and take out ads. Because if that first book didn’t sell, there wouldn’t be a second one. Everyone knows how cutthroat publishers are. Instead of the “publish or perish” of academia, writers must “sell or perish.” I didn’t want to be a one and done author, so I bought into the whole marketing thing to the exclusion of writing that next book.

It didn’t help that blogging, taking out ads, and building a social media presence were easier than writing the next great erotic romance.

But here’s the thing. I don’t think any of my marketing efforts helped sell that first book. What did sell it? Reviews and word of mouth. I didn’t even solicit the reviews. So the most effective marketing wasn’t something I’d worked on. (Honestly, I was terrified of asking for reviews. Still am. What if the reviewer hates it?!) To date, the only paid advertising I’ve found to be effective is Bookbub. But in my experience reviews outsell Bookbub. Even bad reviews.

I still Facebook, Twitter and Blog (obviously, since I’m here). Not because those forums sell books, but because I enjoy the interaction, especially with readers and writers.

What’s been your experience with marketing your book? I’d love to hear it.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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Ignorance Is Bliss: How I Did Everything Wrong

Ignorance is bliss.  At least that was the case during my trip to publication. This month, most authors at the Café have talked about breaking craft or genre rules. I’m veering off course to talk about breaking business rules.

If you’re a writer, you’ve heard the advice.

  1. Aspiring writers must have an online presence—Twitter,  Facebook, a website, a blog. Agents and editors will Google you. Woe to the wannabe writer who cannot be found online.
  2. Read a sampling of books released by a publisher before submitting to that publisher. This is the only way to know if your manuscript is right for them.
  3. Don’t share an email address with your significant other. It’s unprofessional.
  4. Join local writers’ groups, aka learning and perfecting your craft and networking. 

These are the rules I broke while writing my first book, Sharing Hailey.  There are probably others, but again, ignorance is bliss.

Online Presence

When I contracted my first book in 2011, my only online presence was email. No Facebook, not even a profile. No twitter, website, LinkedIn, Google+. Nothing. Did I begin establishing that online presence after the call? You betcha. And I enjoy interacting with readers, authors and anyone else I happen across online. Sometimes, I enjoy it a little too much. It’s definitely a distraction—one I’m grateful I didn’t have while writing that first manuscript.

Read a Sampling Before Submitting

When I submitted to Carina Press, I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of them. They were new to publishing: their first book was released in 2010, about the time I began writing the one they acquired.  In fact, I didn’t read a Carina Press release until after they offered me a contract. I wanted to know if they published good books or if they published anything that came across their desk.  (Insecure much?) A caveat here. I submitted to Carina because I’d won first place in a contest. Angela James, Carina’s Editorial Director, judged the finals and asked to see more.

Don’t Share an Email with your SO

When I submitted, I was sharing an email with my husband…had been for years. It made sense to me. After all, we shared a land line, a mailing address, and to some extent a cell phone because my husband didn’t (and still doesn’t thanks to his security clearance at a national lab) have one. So I occasionally let him borrow mine. In my sharing-an-email defense, I was thinking about getting a separate account because I was tired of wading through his stuff to get to mine. I’d put it off because of the hassle of notifying contacts.  Now, I have not just one but three separate email accounts.

Join Writers’ Groups

Sharing Hailey CoverWhen I wrote Sharing Hailey and submitted to Carina, I wasn’t part of a writers’ group. However, there is another caveat. Many years ago I was a member of several writers’ groups. I even served terms as president, newsletter editor (in the days of literally cutting and pasting…you know with scissors and glue) and contest coordinator. So I had that background of workshops, reference books, and writing friends. The background of workshops and reference books helped me write Sharing Hailey. After I got the call, the network of friends proved invaluable in deciding whether to accept the contract.

For me, perfecting my craft and writing something I loved without the business distractions was the key to getting published—that and a new publisher willing to take a chance on me. As for sales, I was lucky that erotic romance was hot when my book was released. Lots of favorable reviews and an RT Reviewers’ Choice nomination made up for my dismal online presence. While I don’t recommend that others handicap themselves the way I did, maybe my experience will help you obsess a little less about all the well-meaning advice and just write the d*!% book.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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Increasing Daily Word Count

As I’ve said in a previous post, I don’t discuss my work in progress. So I was a little stumped about what to write for this month’s topic, What I’m Working On. Then in an exchange of emails with Reese Ryan, it came to me. I would discuss the program I’ve implemented to increase my daily word count. Jeffe Kennedy in this brilliant post explained that increasing your daily output is like running a marathon. You don’t start out running 26.2 miles. You work up to it. You don’t go from 5 miles to 26 miles in 24 hours. So if I want to write 2000 words a day. I can’t go from 1k to 2k in one day. The always generous Jeffe shared a possible work-out routine for Nanowrimo. I took it and tweaked it for my own needs. Jeffe started at 250 words and worked up to 2200. And it ramped up fairly quickly. 250 seemed too small for me since I was already writing more than that (though much like my physical work-out routine, not consistently). So I upped the starting point to 500. And I’m working up to 2000 over several months instead of one. If we weren’t dealing with winter holidays, I’d have met that 2000 word goal more quickly. But I know my limits. I know that over the holidays, I want to spend time with my family and friends, not hunched over my computer (unless I’m hunched over it talking to family and friends). So I‘ll work up to 1000 words. Then over the holidays, I’ll cut back to 500 a day, which I can easily do in less than an hour. After the holiday season, I’ll start again at 600 words and quickly ramp up to 1k and then slow it down again until I reach 2k.

Yes, that’s being being chased through cubicles by the monster known as introversion.

How am I accomplishing this? (Because for me, just saying I’m going to do it doesn’t work.) I’ve employed several tools. After years of hearing about the amazingness of Write or Die, I finally broke down, bought it and installed it on my laptop and desk top. I don’t use it every time I write. But if I’m having trouble getting the words to flow, I fire it up. The most effective visual consequence for me is the office horror—flimsy cubicles, one after another. It’s not my worst nightmare, but it probably ranks in the top ten. For an introvert like me, it’s certainly cringe-inducing. I’ll admit to being surprised at how motivational it is to avoid the screeching sounds and the cubicle picture that comes up when my writing slows. I set the Write or Die timer for thirty minute sessions. As soon as those thirty minutes are up, I stretch my legs and do something completely unrelated to writing for five or ten minutes. That break gets the ideas cooking again, and I sit down for another session.

Next, rewards. If I meet my word count goals for the week, I get a reward. It’s my payday. The acknowledgement that my writing has value. I talked about rewards in this post.

Third, I made a calendar with daily goals that I can cross off. It’s not on the computer. It’s an actual, physical piece of paper. I love crossing something off a list, so it’s a huge incentive for me.

How’s it working? So far, so good. Keep your fingers crossed.

Anyone else have tips to share?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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Tiny but Mighty: A Real Life Heroine Who Inspired Me

It’s interesting. Last month, when we discussed heroes and where we get our inspiration, many of us listed fictional characters—lots of actors. And I’ll be the first to admit that I search the internet for photos of actors I crush on when I’m seeking inspiration for my heroes. But I noticed this month in discussing what inspires our heroines, many of us listed real people. Women and girls we know—family members, friends, the girl next door. Is it because we’re women, and we know intimately how difficult that role is? Is it because we want someone we can relate to? After all, we’re living the heroine’s life for the length of the book … whether we’re reading or writing it.

I’m not any different when it comes to writing my heroines. Inspiration comes from the strong females in my life: my mom and mother-in-law, my sister and sisters-in-law, grandmothers, and friends. Surprisingly, the females I most admire are my daughters. In their few short years on this earth, they’ve experienced more than their fair share of struggles. My youngest is very private and would not want me to discuss her here. But my oldest died when she was five years old, so she’s fair game.

Rachel was born with Hirschsprung’s disease. For five years she struggled with this rare congenital condition—surgeries, medications and chronic illness. She probably saw every pediatric specialty there is—surgeon, cardiologist, ENT, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist. She didn’t let it slow her down. I don’t know if this was because she had an older brother to keep up with or because she sensed her time with us was short and she had to make the most of it.

The month before Rachel died, she convinced her brother to teach her to read. I was against it because I was afraid she’d be bored when she started Kindergarten. She didn’t let my opinion stop her. In hindsight, I know my worries were groundless. She wouldn’t have been bored: she would have taken the opportunity to help her teachers teach the kids who didn’t know how to read. How do I know this?

Rachel pulls her brother uphill in a wagon

Rachel pulling her brother uphill.

Rachel cared about people and made it her mission to help them. When she went to the
playground or local burger doodle, she asked children who didn’t have anyone to play with to play with her. In fact, during a visit to a burger joint the week before she died, she not only had the children who didn’t have playmates playing with her, she’d organized everyone in the play area into a game. And when it was time for us to leave, she said good-bye to each of them. This was typical of her.

After Rachel’s death, her preschool teachers asked her classmates for memories to share at the memorial service. One little girl, Joy, who was very shy, told her teachers that Rachel said whenever Joy felt shy, she should just come hold Rachel’s hand, and everything would be okay.

That was my girl, twenty-five pounds of tiny but mighty. I like to think that a little of her strength and compassion lives in all of my heroines … and in my heroes, too.

I would love to hear about the women or girls in your life who inspire you. Who do you admire and why?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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Not Tellin’

Two weeks ago, I sent my editor a proposal for my current work in progress (aka WIP).  The following week, I got nothing done on it. My failure wasn’t all about getting my daughter ready for back-to-school because I managed to write two blog posts during that time. No, the problem is this: talking about “what I’m working on” saps all the energy from “what I’m working on.” So I don’t talk about it unless absolutely required. My editor is an absolute requirement. This blog, well, not so much.

It took me quite a few years to learn this lesson—twenty-seven to be exact. When fellow writers or my husband asked how the writing was going, I’d give them a fairly detailed accounting.  As a result, it took me years to finish a manuscript. I thought I was just a procrastinator. For sure, I’m an accomplished goldbricker (and to prove it, I just Googled the origin of the term goldbrick). But in the last three years I’ve learned that if I simply write and don’t discuss writing with anyone, I actually—gasp—write.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s difficult not to shout plot points, conflicts, and character sketches from the rooftops. I want to hash out character motivation with critique partners or my editor. I want to tell my husband all about my fascinating Google search on guns or head trauma. That’s why it took me so long to learn the lesson. I was so excited about my stories that I wanted to share them with everyone. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about my WIP and actually work on my WIP.

It was a hard lesson to learn, but one I’m hoping will stick. So what am I working on? A paint job in the middle of my house. Moving my son to his new home in another state. (Yes, tears will be involved!) Making certain my daughter’s ready for her senior year of high school. (More tears!) Oh, and a book—the third in the Lovers and Friends series—Meredith’s story. If you’d like to meet Meredith, check out Sharing Hailey and Waiting for Ty. She makes appearances in both. And that’s all I’m sayin’ about that.

What are you working on?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café in 2013. Except for the story I’m working on and the kid stuff, it still applies.


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Reading My Work…Post-Publication

I always told people that I never listened to or read the published versions of my books. The thought of doing so made me cringe. What if my work was awful? What if I found a typo? What if I found a continuity problem? Ugh, more frightening than Halloween. (The movie with Jamie Lee Curtis. Not the holiday.) So I just didn’t do it.

Since that first paragraph was written in the past tense, you know where this is going, right? So how did I get past the cringe factor?

Sharing Hailey CoverAt the beginning of October, Harlequin and Scribd came to an agreement to place 15,000 of Harlequin’s backlisted books on Scribd. Two of my books, Sharing Hailey and Waiting for Ty, were in that 15,000. The deal is this; if a subscriber borrows a book from Scribd and reads 20% of it, the author of that book receives her standard royalty, as if the subscriber had bought the book. Of course, I was curious as to where that 20% dividing line fell in my books. So I started flipping pages. As it turns out, I can’t flip pages without reading what’s on those pages. So for first the first time since turning in the final edited manuscript of Sharing Hailey almost three years ago, I read the published version.

Waiting for Ty Cover

Guess what? It didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty damn good. (And yes, I was sober when I read it.) I read the whole book. I found one typo. (I’m sure I missed some!)  But I was quite pleased with the finished product.  Then I started Waiting for Ty. I liked it, too. I have yet to read Tempting Meredith. Since it’s a recent release, it’s not on Scribd, and even if it were, I’m still too close to that final edited manuscript.

Of course, my joy was short-lived. After all, I am an insecure, neurotic author. Sooo I started having panic attacks. What if my work-in-progress wasn’t as good?

Tempting Meredith Cover

I decided it didn’t matter. (Yes, wine was involved at this point.) My WIP might not be as good right now. Since it’s a rough draft, that’s okay; however, the knowledge that I’m capable of producing something I’m proud of is reassuring. I’ve got it in me. Hard work and a story I’m passionate about will bring it out…eventually.

And if you’re wondering, I don’t read my blog posts after they go live. Just the comments. So don’t leave me hanging. How do you feel about reading or listening to your books after those final edits are done?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.


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